When done well, rebranding can yield dramatic results, but it’s harder than it sounds.

Let’s be clear: For an established business with a loyal following, there’s no easy way to go about a rebrand. And yet, a rebrand may nevertheless be the necessary action needed to move into the future and bring a company into alignment with its values. Done well, it can create positive buzz and position a company directly in the path of future success. Done poorly, and you may live in Internet infamy (at least for a little while).

The idea of rebranding can be daunting, especially for companies that have maintained a particular image for decades. Will customers reel at a new name or snub an updated design?

To make matters worse, it’s hard to find a rebrand that hasn’t been the subject of at least some controversy. Starbucks’ seemingly benign removal of its name from its iconic mermaid logo was met with resistance in 2011. Hershey’s addition of a chocolate Kiss icon led to snarky “poop emoji” comparisons. And ConvertKit’s brief renaming to a sacred Sanskrit word caused it to lose half a million dollars.

That said, the Internet has a short attention span, and although painful, even monetary losses can be recovered—so while there are some risks that come with the territory, rebranding shouldn't be so frightening that a company simply refuses to do it. A company can very well proceed with the help of thoughtful self-examination with its core values front and center, an experienced agency, and pre-launch testing.

One certainly cannot rely solely on trends or the blogosphere to decide whether or not rebranding is the right move. If you’re thinking about a rebrand, consider the following questions and tales of companies who have been there.

Is your brand still clearly conveying your values and mission, or has the business evolved away from its original purpose?

Take Mastercard, which did a full rebrand of its logo in 2016. At first glance, it may appear that the company merely modernized an outdated, 90s-style logo, adopting a trendy flat design with more universal appeal to today’s audience. However, the new logo wasn’t a superficial redesign. According to Mastercard’s Chief Marketing Officer, the purpose of the new logo was to showcase the company’s pillars of “simplicity, connectivity, seamlessness, and modernity” as it related to their role as drivers of technology in a new digital landscape. Later, they would even drop the name from the logo, letting the iconic red and orange venn diagram speak for itself.

Contrast this with Tropicana, which seemingly tried to simplify their orange juice packaging to match minimalist trends in 2009, but instead left customers confused and wary of the juice box. The sideways logo was hard to read, the carton looked generic on the shelf, and customers wondered if the orange juice itself had changed, too. The mistake cost $50 million, a very expensive reminder that rebrands should never be done for their own sake, and that there is no substitute for real-world testing.

Are parts of your brand image doing more harm than good?

Slack, the popular workplace communication platform, decided to change its logo because its existing one was being diluted across the Internet, hurting its overall brand cohesiveness and confusing users. Other companies have realized their logo is no longer culturally appropriate. Land O’ Lakes butter, for instance, decided to drop its depiction of a Native American woman on its packaging in 2020, which many said was culturally appropriated and objectifying; Mrs. Butterworth’s, Cream of Wheat, and the makers of Aunt Jemima syrup have also decided to change their racially offensive packaging.

Is the real answer something else?

And what, you may be thinking, about IHOP? The International House of Pancakes did perhaps one of the most viral “rebrands” in recent times by changing its name to “IHOb,” leaving shocked users guessing what the “b” stood for until they revealed to be “burgers”—creating a second uproar—before changing it back to IHOP a month later.

If we are to believe this Tweet, this was really just a clever marketing stunt, not a rebrand gone wrong. As it turns out, IHOP saw burger sales go up dramatically. Why? Because the campaign got millions of people to talk about the brand, to speculate, and ultimately try a new core offering, the hallmark results of a well-planned and executed marketing campaign. Although there are reports of some customers now having “trust issues” with IHOP, it seems unlikely even pancake die-hards will stay upset about the stunt for too long.

So perhaps what your brand needs isn’t a complete overhaul, but just a different marketing strategy to shake things up. It could be as straightforward as a single campaign, or major fixes in the sales pipeline; updates to the product itself, or improvements in customer service. At the end of the day, a brand isn’t ever about how you look, it’s about what you do, and a well-crafted online presence is merely a visual reflection of the experiences you provide.

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